On his radio show Glenn Greenwald interviews Daniel Ellsburg, the former RAND Corporation employee whose release of the infamous “Pentagon Papers” in 1971 exposed the complicity of the U.S. government in continuing the war in Vietnam. As a result, Ellsburg was charged with 12 felony counts and might have served up to 115 years in prison had not the Supreme Court ruled in his favor. The leaking of the Pentagon Papers to The New York Times so infuriated Nixon that he authorized the creation of a White House unit designed to stop leaks (the infamous “Plumbers”); the burgling of Democratic headquarters in the Watergate Hotel shortly thereafter was the next logical step of an administration obsessed with control.

The full transcript is a good read. Ellsburg and Greenwald reminds us that Americans have no reason to trust Obama and McCain to restore our fallen liberties in the wake of their respective votes and non-votes for the FISA compromise.

DE: I think that in that sense Cheney and Bush have been and are domestic enemies of our actual Constitution, as written. And I don’t say that rhetorically. I’m not saying that they’re traitors or disloyal in their feelings toward this country, or that they don’t want the best for this country. I think they want the best for this country, but what they think is best is something other than our Constitution of the last two hundred years. It is something like an elected dictatorship.

They have a right to believe that. But they don’t have a right to act on that as they have [after taking that oath]. The question here is, as you’re raised, how can we change that if we don’t hold them to account somehow? Well, I think we have to be very creative here in finding ways to repudiate that point of view and roll it back and restore our Constitution. Perhaps some way other than impeachment: which is the straightforward way, but which by every indication the Democrats are simply determined not to give us and are not going to do it now this year, unfortunately.

And Obama has indicated as of now… with his advisor Cass Sunstein, who I think you demolished when you interviewed him the other day–I would have been dizzied, listening to him if I was in your place, and as an advisor to Obama…there were just wild descriptions of what democracy requires–but with that kind of advice, we have to assume that Obama, who also wants to bring people together and to reach across the aisle and to look towards the future, none of those indicate he will be interested in pursuing these issues.

Yet Greenwald doesn’t lose his cool. The present looks blurry to commentators, thus more vulnerable to hyperbole about its awfulness:

GG: I think it always seems that hard core indictments of one’s own time and one’s own political system are exaggerated because people only see the extremism of their time retrospectively. I think it strikes people as hyperbole because they just think we don’t have a king, we don’t have an emperor, just instinctively believe that. But if you just look at the very definition of what an empire is, of what a monarchy is, and the sort of defining attributes of what those systems of government are, certainly we’re a lot closer to that in terms of how we now function practice than we are to the constitutional republic that we began as.

The picture tells us how The Witnesses approaches the subject of AIDS in mid eighties France: insouciantly. We know – the characters vaguely know – the threat, but we’re having too much fun to take precautions. Although not the subtle psychosexual ballet that director André Téchiné’s 1995 masterpiece Wild Reeds was, The Witnesses has the earlier film’s democracy of spirit. Téchiné doesn’t linger too long on any one character; if the dialogue is at times didactic rather than realistic, the performances and the delicateness with which he sets his characters in motion amidst settings almost too worthy of postcards create their own pleasure. The filigrees of ethnic tension between the Muslim Mehdi (Sami Bouajila), wife Sarah (Emmanuelle Béart), and lover Manu (Johan Libéreau) is handled with an offhanded probity that’s a relief from the metaphysical exertions of Caché and, shall we say, the static post-colonialist erotica of Clair Denis’ Beau Travail. Nothing is held too long here. The characters behave as people with appetites first; no wonder the film shows Béart typing her novel, the foursome dancing on a sunlit veranda, and enjoying a boat excursion in the first twenty minutes. The exception – Michel Blanc as Manu’s older lover, too smart and too generous for his own good – doesn’t force others to reckon with his appetites until he’s consumed by them.

Most refreshing, Téchiné doesn’t photograph Libéreau’s Manu as sun-kissed manflesh, as Denis or François Ozon would have (Ozon’s Time To Leave stands as this film’s sweet, sickly counterpart). From the first instant he flashes his big-toothed grin we’re all goners, and the director has the good sense not to push his luck. Manu’s beauty is really an extension of his youth, and as ephemeral. Similarly, we’re not asked to gawk at Béart’s nudeness in a scene in which Bouajila talks to her while she’s showering. These men and women are as comfortable with their bodies as with sport (the scent of sweat and grass is as strong here as in Wild Reeds), which makes the disease’s onset more devastating. While not quite its equal, The Witnesses plays like a celluloid adaptation of the Pet Shop Boys’ “Being Boring”

Literature’s finest schlock

I remember the shock when I read Evelyn Waugh’s The Loved One a couple of years after Brideshead Revisited. Imagine listening to the Buzzcock’s “Orgasm Addict” after Kansas’ “Dust in the Wind.” The author of this limp, pallid, honey-hewed paen to English private school class envy and homoerotica wrote really funny novels! Maybe “pallid” is too strong: the depictions of nasty headmasters are worthy of the writer of Scoop and Vile Bodies; but they’re unenthusiastic takedowns, as if nostalgia dulled his skewer.

Anyway, Troy Patterson fondly walks us through “literature’s finest schlock” and the PBS adaptation that predated the E.M. Forster revival by almost four years, hereby preparing us for a lot of pain.

Good news here and here. In the first link, the House votes to revoke the travel ban on AIDS victims by an overwhelming margin (303-115); it now goes to the President’s desk. In the second, the House Armed Services Committee held hearings to discuss the continued efficacy of “don’t ask, don’t tell.” No movement yet, but there was bipartisan unity in the ridicule for one Elaine Donnelly:

“We’re talking about real consequences for real people,” Donnelly proclaimed. Her written statement added warnings about “inappropriate passive/aggressive actions common in the homosexual community,” the prospects of “forcible sodomy” and “exotic forms of sexual expression,” and the case of “a group of black lesbians who decided to gang-assault” a fellow soldier.

The Dark Nought

Far more disturbing than the heat and the sight of women in black Spoon T-shirts during Pitchfork Music Festival was the new Batman flick, The Dark Knight. Because of time constraints, my compulsion to scatter thoughts hither and thither through the Internets, and sheer loss of nerve, I’ve avoided writing at length, but since I’m reading and hearing very few critical views from my own generation about the Holy Grail of comic book adaptations (David Edelstein published an intelligent demurral last week) I just couldn’t fight it anymore.

As a fan of X-2, most of Iron-Man, and the Richard Lester-helmed bits of Superman II, I don’t balk at comic book adaptations. But now that it’s a genre as respectable as the western once was, directors try to inject sonorities that the material really can’t support. It amounts to an unintended condescension towards the material: comic books aren’t serious enough on their own, so they must be longer, more violent, and allude to The Secret Sharer for extra thematic heft. As the culmination of this approach, The Dark Knight confuses darkness with seriousness, portent with drama, homilies for soliloquies, tell for show, and sadism for violence. I can’t remember the last time a movie shook me so much. Talk to fans, though, and they assume that since a film “disturbed” them then it must be worthy. Some porn is disturbing, but no one would confuse it with art; and make no bones about it — The Dark Knight is porn.

A large part of the problem is Christian Bale, who can’t compensate for writer-director Christopher Nolan’s disinterest in his character; it’s as if Nolan relied on the audience’s collective memories of the Batman they know from the comic to fill this vacuum. Bale’s never been so cruelly exposed as an actor. He’s best when his chiseled hauteur convinces us that subtext is an indulgence for plebes (think American Psycho). If we don’t accept the tension in Bruce Wayne/Batman — an urge to yield to the evil he fights — Nolan’s ideas crumble. I never read the comic, only gotten a sense that Wayne’s an insufferable cad. I totally wish Nolan had had some fun: filmed more scenes of Bruce Wayne boning Playboy cover models and sucking champagne from between their titties. But Michael Keaton suggested some depth: in Bale’s hands he’s Anakin Skywalker as the dead tree in Dagobah. It should be clear that I don’t mind violence in movies, but bad faith offends me, especially as I get older and I lose my tolerance for gin and bloodletting. If you’re going to film a scene in which (SPOILER) the Joker slams a punk into a sharpened pencil, you better make damn sure that the context is morally ambiguous enough to mitigate the sadism. But I can’t expect a movie whose fight scenes remain as incomprehensible as its predecessor’s to understand context. The Dark Knight doesn’t realize it simply has to stop, so frantically does it assemble explosions, lacerations, and threats to women and children. For Nolan, motion denotes progress. He isn’t resourceful enough as a director or writer to tease the ambiguities without relying on daft speeches.

The Dark Knight uses violence for kicks and thrills, as if the You Complete Me stuff between Harvey Dent, the Joker, and Batman provided a moral carapace for Nolan’s dick-pulling. I don’t like how in scenes with the two ferries the movie teeters on nihilism, then timidly pulls back. Then, in a scene whose racial politics — hell, its politics, period — are inscrutable, a dangerous black felon does the good deed that his white pussy counterpart can’t find the courage to perform. Nolan’s point is clear: it takes a man acquainted with evil to understand what’s at stake. He wants it both ways: he mourns the loss of man’s capacity for goodness, yet can’t give goodness the space it deserves without cooking up a way for the good man to soil his hands — all the while making the metaphorical soil on those hands kinky and thrilling. It reminds me of what Pauline Kael once said about Flashdance: Nolan is like a sleazo putting the make on you.

As for Heath Ledger…what can I add? He’s as good as you heard, and a pity that Nolan left him performing this Stalin-esque scourge by himself, without an antagonist worthy of him (the Joker’s Tati-esque sashay in a nurse’s gown while a hospital disintegrates behind him is one of the movie’s few imaginative bits of poetry). While it’s possible a character like Edmund haunted Shakespeare’s sleep — how couldn’t he? — the playwright also created three-dimensional portraits of decency (Cordelia) and tortured consciences (Gloucester). If you think King Lear allusions are pretentious, keep in mind that it’s as high art that The Dark Knight has been received by fans. Nolan is frightened of his own creation, though, and this can’t be right.

I’ll remember Pitchfork Music Festival this year for the great times with friends I too rarely see and the heat (as a South Floridian I thought I could deal with humidity in every state in the Union) more than the performances, although most of them were serviceable.

Surprises: the Dirty Projectors, an act which sounded tinny and altogether too comfortable with ethereality on record, created a compelling mix of the Raincoats meets Cocteau Twins.

Disappointments: Jarvis Cocker, running through songs from a solo album which was at best Not Bad; the frantic Caribou need to learn that sex isn’t all climax, especially if the foreplay isn’t particularly memorable; it wasn’t too difficult for Dinosaur Jr’s music to get tangled in J. Mascis’ hair.

Highlights: No other act reveled in its newfound celebrity like the Hold Steady. After stellar reviews and their biggest sales to date, Craig Finn acted like the born frontman he was. What a relief to see a child of indie who makes no bones about converting the biggest audiences he can find. “Sequestered in Memphis” sounded like I’d been hearing it since 1983; Vampire Weekend played mesmerizing versions of “I Stand Corrected” and a new track that outdid Animal Collective in Mupppets-style animal grunts; King Khan and the Shrines’ unabashed fun and embrace of histrionics shone through the mud and grime; No Age didn’t waste a note; neither did Ghostface and Raekwon, who were models of professionalism in a set that incorporated everything from “C.R.E.A.M.” to “We Celebrate.”

Coitus interruptus: Cut Copy, who thanks to an airport delay and a curfew only played about 20 minutes. Although I didn’t catch them, the excitement for their aborted set eclipsed Spoon’s (perfectly fine) performance.

I’ll remember Pitchfork Music Festival this year for the great times with friends I too rarely see and the heat (as a South Floridian I thought I could deal with humidity in every state in the Union) more than the performances, although most of them were serviceable.

Surprises: the Dirty Projectors, an act which sounded tinny and altogether too comfortable with ethereality on record, created a compelling mix of the Raincoats meets Cocteau Twins.

Disappointments: Jarvis Cocker, running through songs from a solo album which was at best Not Bad; the frantic Caribou need to learn that sex isn’t all climax, especially if the foreplay isn’t particularly memorable; it wasn’t too difficult for Dinosaur Jr’s music to get tangled in J. Mascis’ hair.

Highlights: No other act reveled in its newfound celebrity like the Hold Steady. After stellar reviews and their biggest sales to date, Craig Finn acted like the born frontman he was. What a relief to see a child of indie who makes no bones about converting the biggest audiences he can find. “Sequestered in Memphis” sounded like I’d been hearing it since 1983; Vampire Weekend played mesmerizing versions of “I Stand Corrected” and a new track that outdid Animal Collective in Mupppets-style animal grunts; King Khan and the Shrines’ unabashed fun and embrace of histrionics shone through the mud and grime; No Age didn’t waste a note; neither did Ghostface and Raekwon, who were models of professionalism in a set that incorporated everything from “C.R.E.A.M.” to “We Celebrate.”

Coitus interruptus: Cut Copy, who thanks to an airport delay and a curfew only played about 20 minutes. Although I didn’t catch them, the excitement for their aborted set eclipsed Spoon’s (perfectly fine) performance.

I’ve been Pitchforking for the last four days: at the music festival and hanging out with friends. See you on Monday.